Friday, June 19, 2009

10 reasons why open source makes sense on smart phones

Open source brings a host of benefits to the mobile market, starting with cost savings. But as Jack Wallen explains, the advantages go much further - from better security to more customization options to more prolific application development.

The mobile industry is getting really interesting. We have finally reached a point where the smart phone is actually smart and the average user can gain serious benefits from its usage. How did this come about? In a word: Competition.

When the iPhone arrived on the scene, users scrambled to get their hands on Apple’s sexy gadget, and competitors scrambled to make a device that would have the same appeal. It’s taken a while, but the competition has arrived. Android phones, Palm Pre, Blackberry Bold — they are all outstanding entries into this market. But two of those entries will, in my opinion, outshine the rest for one simple reason — open source. Why is open source going to help raise these phones above the competition? I have 10 reasons why.

  1. Open standards
    With the iPhone, you do what Apple says, you follow Apple standards, and you use only Apple-approved apps (unless you jailbreak your phone). With both the Android-based phones and the Palm Pre, open standards are not just a bullet point or buzz phrase — open standards will be adhered to. And this appearance will have lasting effects. Software will be easier to develop, Web sites will load as expected (and will be easier to develop for the mobile device), and hardware accessories will be more readily available.

  2. More applications
    As it stands, the iPhone is the king of the app. It seems for just about everything, Apple has an “app for that.” But as the Android phones and the Pre begin to be more widely used, apps for those phones will multiply exponentially. Why? First, the application development process won’t be crippled by the same acceptance process Apple has. Anytime you want to develop an application for something, Apple will strike you down if it is something already native to the iPhone. You want a different browser on your iPhone? No luck. I look for mobile versions of Firefox and Chrome to both appear on the Pre and the Android-based phones. This will continue until one (or both) app stores surpass the Apple app store.

  3. Security

    Sooner or later, security is going to become a big issue with mobile computing. Apple has already shown that it can be painfully slow at releasing updates for the iPhone. Because of the open source nature of the competition, updates will not be so slow to arrive. So when a security hole or flaw is found, the update will find its way to the end user much faster. Of course, it’s not really just about the updates. The very foundation of the Pre and the Android phone is Linux based, so it’s going to enjoy a more fundamental security than, say, any of the Windows Mobile phones available. And although mobile phone security has yet to really become a widespread issue, with smart phones becoming the norm, it will be soon enough.

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